Saturday, October 13, 2012
Defensive struggles catch up to WVU
By David Ubben
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Facing a fourth-and-6 on his own 29-yard line, Dana Holgorsen didn't look to do much contemplating about whether or not he'd send out his punting unit.
With more than eight minutes to play in the third quarter, 95 percent of coaches would have thought about the same amount of time ... and sent out the punter.
The West Virginia coach elected to take the risk and lost, when his Heisman front-runner quarterback missed on a throw to Tavon Austin along the right sideline. That wasn't much different than the way the rest of Saturday went for the Mountaineers, who suffered a humbling 49-14 loss to Texas Tech and surely will drop from the top five in falling to 5-1.
It was a move that smelled of desperation because it was born from it. Down 35-7, West Virginia's defense hadn't given Holgorsen much of a choice.
"They played better than we did on all three sides of the ball, they played harder than we did, the effort was harder, they outcoached us," Holgorsen said. "We let the situation get to us."
Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest admitted he saw a lack of energy even in warm-ups, and once the game began, West Virginia still looked like it was warming up. Thing is, WVU never got hot, or anything close to it.
Tech needed just six plays to score the game's first touchdown on a 39-yard pass from Seth Doege to Jace Amaro, and the Red Raiders left no doubt as to which team was superior.
Doege finished with a career-high 504 yards with six touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing.
"It's not like they were outscheming us; they just played harder than we did, which is disappointing," Holgorsen said. "You only have 12 games to play. Anytime you leave the game and say, 'They played harder than us,' is something that's very disturbing to me."
Mountaineers QB Geno Smith completed just 29 of 55 passes, for 295 yards and one score.
Holgorsen admitted that perhaps the whipping West Texas wind affected star quarterback Geno Smith's head more than his passes, although Smith rejected that notion later. Holgorsen also emphasized that no amount of weather or injury -- WVU played the second half without receiver Stedman Bailey (ankle) and the whole game without top defensive lineman Will Clarke, who didn't practice this week -- is an excuse for playing the way the Mountaineers played Saturday.
The "blame" is rather obvious. West Virginia had given up 35 points in a half before, just two weeks ago in a 70-63 win over Baylor. When the offense scores 35, too, it's a little easier to shrug off the defensive failures.
Saturday, though, was a bad day for the "You don't need defense to win it all!" crowd. West Virginia's defense is still waiting for a performance to write home about, and with one forgettable day from the offense ("Everything just seemed a little off," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said), a perfect season came to a rather spectacular end.
"There's no excuses for what happened today. I was off. I wasn't hitting my targets, wasn't hitting my reads. There's a number of things I did wrong," Smith said.
He finished 29-of-55 for 275 yards and a touchdown, keeping his interception-free streak alive but leaving with a head-scratching loss. Texas Tech didn't blitz more than he thought it would. Smith said he wasn't confused and felt well-prepared.
The plays just didn't work. The running game that was dominant against Texas the previous weekend never materialized to take pressure off Smith, and the entire offense suffered, although Smith's struggles were the clearest Saturday.
"There's no explanation for it; it's just the way the game goes," Smith said. "Everyone has a bad game. That's all there is to it. I don't think I played terribly bad, I just didn't do enough to win the game, and that's the way I measure myself, by wins and losses, rather than all that other stuff that people like to build up in the media world."
If Saturday's loss wasn't enough of a reminder that the Big 12 will be a bumpy road -- this same Texas Tech team lost by three touchdowns to Oklahoma last week -- next week will offer yet another. The Big 12's lone undefeated team -- Kansas State, a 27-21 winner over Iowa State on Saturday -- already has its sights set on a West Virginia offense that looked vulnerable for the first time Saturday and a defense that hasn't stopped much of anyone all season. There's no time to waste for Holgorsen.
"They were the better team today. They outplayed us, they outcoached us and they were better on all three sides of the ball. It happens in football," Holgorsen said. "I told them to hurry up, get dressed, get on the bus, we'll get on the plane, fly back, we'll watch the tape tonight and tomorrow, meet with them tomorrow, get the game over with, and we'll move on to Kansas State."